So Dr. Henry Savage finds me "politically correct" but "scientifically incorrect!" My friends would be amused by the former. As for the latter, contrary to the headline ("MacNeill's science is wrong"), the science on which I based my remarks is the science accepted by all National Academies of Science. In fact, during my talk, I quoted at length and almost exclusively from a statement prepared for last week's G-8 meeting and endorsed not only by the Academies of the G-8 (including the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Russia), but also by those of Brazil, China and India. Dr. Savage would know this had he been present at the talk.
It is true there are several greenhouse gases apart from CO2 (methane, tropospheric ozone, and nitrous oxide among them), but in asserting that CO2 is a "minor greenhouse gas," and that the "Earth's temperature record does not conform to variation in CO2 levels," Savage merely is repeating the catechism of denial he learned in EXXON, his former employer.
These views are not shared by the Academies of Science mentioned above, nor by the oil and other corporations who are breaking ranks daily with the self-serving denial of EXXON. CO2 emissions from fossil fuels are, by far, the major culprit. Last year, in a major article in Foreign Affairs, Lord John Brown, CEO of BP, formerly British Petroleum, vigorously championed an international goal of stabilizing CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere at 500 ppm to 550 ppm by 2050. I happen to advise Brown as a member of a BP panel about another matter, and I am informed that BP already has surpassed its Kyoto target at no net cost because of savings from energy efficiency.
In spite of his denial of the science, Savage supports strategies to enable us to adapt to climate change. They are indeed necessary, as the academies point out, because we already are committed to considerable damage from it. However, Savage's suggestion that adaptation to the unfolding damage is all we can or need to do is bad counsel. It may serve the short-term interests of EXXON, but it does not serve the short or long-term interests of humankind. It will lead to ever-increasing temperatures and ever-rising sea levels.
As Tony Blair said when he announced the agenda for last week's G-8 summit, climate change is "a challenge so far reaching in its impact, and irreversible in its destructive power, that it radically alters human existence." Last week, 24 CEOs sent a letter to Blair stating that "we need to take urgent and informed action now if we are to avoid the worst impacts of climate change." They, not EXXON, are right. We know what needs to be done. And Europe, 28 U.S. states, 151 U.S. cities, an increasing number of corporations and millions of citizens are beginning to do it. Savage and his former colleagues at EXXON should stop denying the science and get on board.
The Seminars at Steamboat, I am told, are designed to promote dialogue about public policy issues, and I am sure they will continue to be based on sound science. An issue of this importance deserves nothing less.
Jim MacNeill, O.C., D.Sc., LL.D, P.Eng.